The Health Benefits of Sweet Cherries and How to Enjoy ‘Em All Year Long
It’s sweet cherry season! For Northwest-grown cherries, the short season typically only lasts from June through August and is well worth taking advantage of. Sweet cherries are delicious, easy to eat, versatile and packed with a multitude of nutrients and health benefits. In partnership with Northwest Cherry Growers, I’m highlighting all of the health benefits of sweet cherries and ways to reap them long beyond the fresh summer season.
Nutrients and health benefits
No doubt you’ve seen sweet cherries played up to the max in desserts: cherry pie, cherry tarts and even cherry ice cream. What I love about this fruit is that it’s SO versatile. Cherries taste amazing in desserts, but also in many savory recipes too: in salads, as sauces or even in dressings. And, most importantly, they’re delicious on their own and the perfect summertime snack. Just pop them in your mouth, making sure not to eat the pit! I love them with Greek yogurt and a touch of honey.
While two main types of cherries exist, tart and sweet, this blog focuses on sweet cherries. Like their name suggests, they’re sweet, delicious and loaded with various nutrients. Multiple types of sweet cherries exist too, although most commonly, you’ll find ones that are large and dark red to almost purple looking.
Just one cup of these cherries has:
3 grams of fiber
18% of the recommended Daily Value for vitamin C
260 mg of potassium
And many antioxidants, including anthocyanins, which give cherries their color
These nutrients in cherries help to establish them as a super nutrient-dense fruit. As part of a healthy diet, cherries have been shown to have multiple benefits. Their antioxidant content helps them to decrease oxidative stress and inflammation, their high potassium content helps to decrease muscle soreness and lower blood pressure, and all that vitamin C helps to boost the immune system. Plus, they’re considered a good source of belly-filling fiber, which can help to lower cholesterol.
Sweet cherries grown in the Northwest are in season during the summer. Different types range in when they’re in season. Some are in season only in June, some from mid-June through August, and some starting in July through August.
When possible, I always recommend buying any produce (both fruit and vegetables) from the farmers that grow them. Not only does this help to support smaller, local farms, but it also gives you the best produce too. Like all produce, cherries purchased in season from farmers will be at both their peak in nutritional value and taste.
But if you want them outside of their short season…
If you’re like me, you probably also want cherries outside of that small summer season window. And good news, you can have them! Another benefit to buying cherries while they’re in season is the ability to buy them in bulk: buy cherries now and store them to enjoy all year round (where’s the hands in the air emoji when you need it?!).
When it’s out of season, fruit is typically more expensive and doesn’t taste as good (because it’s being shipped and transported from farther away, thus increasing its cost and decreasing its quality). Instead, buy sweet cherries in bulk in the summer while they’re in season. Then, simply dry, freeze or can them to enjoy delicious cherries for the rest of the year.
Dry: To turn fresh cherries into delicious, dried cherries, wash them, cut them in half and remove their pits and stems. Place the cherries skin side down on a parchment-lined baking tray. Dry the cherries at 140 F for 6 to 12 hours, until they’re leathery and slightly sticky. Store them as you would any dry fruit – in small, sealed bags in a cool, dry place – they’ll last about 6 to 12 months. I love dried cherries in homemade granola, trail mix, in baked goods and added to yogurt with cereal or seeds.
Freeze: My favorite and probably the easiest method – cherries can be frozen either with or without the pits. Simply wash, dry and place cherries in a freezer-safe plastic bag and seal tightly. They’ll last in the freezer for about a year. These cherries can then be used for baking or eaten raw once defrosted (or over ice cream - yum!)
Can: Cherries can be canned with water, juice or syrup. Use about ½ cup of liquid per quart of fruit. In a saucepan, bring the liquid to a boil. Simply pour the liquid over washed cherries in a jar, leaving about ½-inch of space on top. Seal tightly and store. When stored properly, in a cool, dark place, canned cherries can last over a year.
Ways to Eat Them
Like I mentioned, the ways to eat sweet cherries are endless. Of course, you can eat them raw, but I also love playing around with them in different recipes. This Savory Sweet Cherry Sauce is my new favorite way to eat them (okay, right after eating them as a topping on vanilla ice cream!). This recipe is both sweet and savory, combining different textures that pair perfectly together. Not to mention, the fiber from the cherries, healthy fats from the avocado, protein from the chicken burgers and boost of veggies from the sautéed kale makes this meal super filling and satisfying.
If you have extra sauce leftover (or want to make double to have leftovers – highly recommend!), try using the sauce on turkey burgers with arugula and caramelized onion, on sourdough toast with ricotta cheese, or as a dipping sauce for any roasted veggies. The possibilities are endless – and trust me, you’ll want to keep eating this sauce.
Recipe: Chicken Burgers with Savory Sweet Cherry Sauce
(with Mashed Avocado and Sautéed Kale)
Total time: 1 hour
Savory Sweet Cherry Sauce
2 ½ cups Northwest sweet cherries
1 small yellow onion
1 tablespoon olive oil
½ teaspoon dried rosemary
3 tablespoons water
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon honey
1 lb. lean ground chicken
Remaining ½ small yellow onion
¼ cup breadcrumbs
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 teaspoon dried parsley
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 cup kale, roughly chopped
2 ripe avocados
6 whole wheat hamburger buns
Savory Sweet Cherry Sauce (makes about 1 cup)
1. Pit cherries by using a straw or pin to push out the pits. Alternatively, you can also pit the cherries by roughly cutting them around the pit.
2. Roughly chop onion and place in a food processor. Grind until fine pieces remain (if you don’t have a food processor, you can also grind the onion against a cheese or cheese grater).
3. Add olive oil to a large saucepan over medium high heat. Once oil is hot and has spread, add about ½ of onion (preserve the rest for the chicken burgers). Cook the onion, stirring occasionally, for about 4-5 minutes, until soft.
4. Add cherries, rosemary, salt and pepper to the pan and stir to combine. Cook for another 4-5 minutes, stirring occasionally, until cherries have softened.
5. Add water, balsamic vinegar, honey and stir. Bring to boil and then lower heat and let simmer for about 10-12 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the cherries have softened, and the mixture thickens.
6. Once done, pour into a jar and set aside.
Chicken Burgers (makes 6 burgers)
1. While cherry sauce is simmering, make chicken burgers.
2. In a large bowl, combine ground chicken, remaining ground onion, breadcrumbs, garlic, parsley, salt and pepper. Mix well to combine.
3. Using your hands, form mixture into 6 burgers and place on a plate.
4. Once cherry sauce is done and poured in a jar, add olive oil to the pan on medium high heat.
5. Add burgers (cook in batches if they all won’t fit at once) and cook for about 12-14 minutes, flipping once, until the internal temperature reaches 165 F.
6. Set aside on a plate.
1. Add remaining 1 tablespoon of olive oil to the pan. Add kale and sauté for about 4-5 minutes, until soft and wilted. Set aside.
2. Roughly chop avocado and add to a bowl. Using a fork, mash avocado until almost smooth.
3. Toast whole wheat buns by placing face down on pan or in the toaster.
4. Assemble the burgers: top one half of bun with mashed avocado, sautéed kale, chicken burger and savory sweet cherry sauce.
Store leftover cherry sauce in an airtight container in the fridge for 3-4 days or in the freezer for up to 4 months.